Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fulbright Blog
Date: November 6, 2006
Place: Dhaka

Sorry for the delay in my blogging. Activity has started to increase here. This week I am searching for a research assistant and a real estate attorney. This process has revealed a couple of interesting things about how Bangladeshis use telephones.

As in the US, most people here have a mobile phone which they carry with at all times. Unlike the US, however, it is apparently perfectly acceptable to answer the phone (and have a conversation) while you are in a meeting with someone else.

Another interesting mobile habit that I have observed is that people will call you repeatedly until you answer. For example, if you do not pick up the first time, they will call you five minutes later. And then five minutes later... And then five minutes later... After all, why would anyone not pick up their phone as soon as they receive a call?!

Most Bangladeshis also do not have voicemail. When I arrived I was initially told that voicemail is not available here. I did a bit of research and found out that this is not the case. Grameen Phone (one of the major carriers) does have voicemail and it's free! You have to pay a per minute charge to check your voicemail, but there is no charge for the service itself... The only catch is that you have to call a separate number to set it up. (They can't do it at the phone store for you...) Mine was setup within an hour after calling though, so it is really not that painful of a process...

Anyway, because most people do not know about this voicemail system (perhaps it is new?) I have found that people react a bit strangely to it. First, they still use the old call every five minutes strategy, but this time they also leave a voice message. Yesterday my phone was turned off for two hours and I received 11 voice messages! I am not really that popular, it was two people who called me several times...

Some people also don't really know what to do with the voicemail, so they listen to my entire message and then hang up (so I have several blank voicemails...) Most people use text messaging instead of voicemail...

I have also found that because it is the culture here to immediately respond to calls, people get nervous if you do not get back to them right away. One friend told me that someone called her at 10pm and she returned the call the next morning and the caller thought that my friend was upset with him!

Another trend is for people to call you and then hang up right away. Apparently this is because it costs money to make a call, but not to receive one. So, the person calls you, hangs up right away, and counts on you to use caller ID to get back to them.

One final trend is that Bangladeshi men will call up white women to "make friends" (meaning they want to date you...) One woman I met was so harrassed (one guy called 15 times a day) that once when he called she gave the phone to my friend Nabil, another Fulbrighter who is fluent in Bangla. He apparently (sadly I was not there to observe the conversation) started yelling at the guy in Bangla "How dare you keep calling my wife!" along with some other expletives that I shall not repeat here. That seemed to do the trick because the guy apologized profusely, sent the woman a text message saying that he would leave her alone, and has not called since!

Thankfully, I have only had one such incident happen to me on my mobile phone. (But 1-5 random men do try to call me on Skype every day...) A person kept calling me before I had given my number out to anyone. My friend Steve thinks that some guy in the Grameen store probably saw me and coaxed the guy at the counter to give him my number. After about 15 calls where I did not pick up (for I had heard about the stories BEFORE I got my phone) he stopped calling... I do not answer the phone now unless I know who is calling me!

Now I am not really a phone person to begin with, so I am not sure how I will adjust to these cultural quirks in the long run. In the short term, however, I am sticking to my old American way, which is to keep my phone off and return voice messages at my leisure! All 100 of them if need be!

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